Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Kensington is Annoyed; Mice Don't Dive Well

Well, I'm off for some Sun, Blue Ocean and living on a boat!

I've been preoccupied with getting ready for my upcoming dive trip this weekend, so you'll have to excuse my slowdown in posting.

Be "Back in Black" next week, so see you then!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Pinging Art #1: Back in Black!

Wayfinder and Kensington Mouse, the two mascots for Webcomic Finds. Wayfinder is something of my avatar, and is based on my physical appearance except for the Explorer's hat. They both made their first appearance in the "The Essence of Infinite Canvas" comic I did for Comixpedia (now Comixtalk). The drawing is done in pencil and inked by fountain pen. Not the best of tools, but it was the only thing handy at that time.

Most of you probably don't know it, but I have an art blog called "Ping Art" that I don't really update anymore. It focused more on art techniques and equipment, but I never could find enough time to divide between my comics, blogs and other projects to update it more than a few times.

Time of Death: Around the same time I went on my 3-year hiatus. 

But now that Webcomic Finds has been brought back from the dead, I've been toying with the idea of resurrecting it and merging it with Webcomic Finds. After all as I have mentioned, I've come to the realisation my creativity comes in cycles... I read other comics, I learn and take notes, then I stop and start think-tanking and getting into long complicated talks about theory and stuff. Then I draw. And draw some more until I get tired and out of ideas and then I start reviewing again.

Yes that's my handwriting. On a graphics tablet though.

You already see the process of the first two steps in this blog (Reviews are Journey Legs and Postcards, Brainstorming comes in the form of Hotspots), so shouldn't I just continue and show you the third as well?

Recently a lot of people have started asking me about the comics I do. Generally I don't advertise my comics much on this blog, especially now since my main active one is an experimental one I started when I was around 14 (oops the magic age 14 again... and NO I'm not 14 now).

It's interesting to read for being able to see my progression through the years, but art-wise and writing wise it's also inconsistent because of the said passage of years, leading to a not very smooth end product. And while I love doing it it's not the best representation of what I can do.

And I'm certainly not cruel enough to introduce someone to my other comic while THAT is on hiatus...

But still... I would like to showcase some samples of how the stuff I learn from blogging can be applied to my own work, and making a point of showing that not only can I talk about comics, but I DO them too. 

Thus, I present a new Webcomic Finds feature, called "Pinging Art". 

Voila! The cycle is complete.

ps: The "Back in Black!" refers to me newly cracking the secret of black and white art into my rather thick skull ;) It is also a prelude to what will be the topic of the next Pinging Art installment.

UPDATE: I've now imported the old Ping Art entries into Webcomic Finds. You should be able to see them all here.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Stopover at Dovecote Crest: Romantic Moments That Make You Go: "YAAY!"!

I'm not a fan of romance in comics. Probably because most of the time, they feel very contrived, cliched or just badly done in general.

All that said, this week's installment of The Battle of Dovecote Crest had me punching my fist into the air and going "YAAAY!"

And I love how I absolutely can't predict what will happen next. 

It's a nice moment, especially after all the trouble they had over the ComicDish being hacked fiasco. Glad to see they have their own site now.

Hm one of these days I need to try out and write about Comicpress. And Twitter. 

I think part of me is holding out on getting a Twitter for this blog. I really should, since I update on whim it would be easier for my readers to keep up. *sigh* It's just... the whole join-the-Borg feeling it gives out... 

Friday, May 01, 2009

Hotspot #19: Webcomic Finds-Now Written By An Evil 14-Year Old!

When I'm in my contemplative mood, which usually comes after a slew of reviews, I take a break and think... and experiment. It's part of the learning process, and I've learnt to just go along with it instead of pushing myself to do reviews despite the requests that pour in. (The waiting list is well into double figures now, but uh... until next review cycle?)

However I can't refrain from checking out links some some er... little birds send to me from time to time, including this rather amusing comment thread over at Addanac City.

Warning: This is a ranty rant of the highest order.

If you recall, Addanac City was on the receiving end of one of my more controversial Postcards, where I gave it a rather sound thrashing for the very bad presentation and obnoxious tagline. It was so distracting that it coloured my entire perception of the comic, and put me in a bad mood to boot. But it was a very very valuable lesson in how a bad preconceived notion and presentation can influence how a reader "sees" a comic, and how they can be offended by it.

Of course, the most wonderful part of the whole thing was the reaction of the creator, George Ford, who politely thanked me for the review and got to work improving the site. We even exchanged a couple of reasonably friendly (well respectful, at the very least) emails and comments, so I thought to myself that even if I did not enjoy his comic, I could totally admire his work ethic and receptiveness to criticism. 

In fact I even dropped in from time to time to check how he was doing and gave him further feedback on the changes he made. 

Recently I received a post on the blog with a request to check out his website redesign. I'm always happy to give feedback to people who are willing to ask nicely for it and listen, so accordingly, I checked it out, left some comments and suggestions on how it could be improved, and thought that was the end of it. This is it, verbatim from the comment in the other post.

Hi George,

I see you've been hard at work!

I have a couple of points about the new web design:

1) I'm not a big fan of the bright turquoise background. It makes the text very hard to read. I would suggest either a) toning the colour down b) putting a white backing layer for whenever there's text. That way you can still have your turquoise without straining the reader's eyes.

2) I actually liked your old header better. This new one is nicely done and attention-grabbing, but it's TOO attention grabbing. It's got waaay too much going on in the image, it's even interfering with the comic itself as the reader's eye is drawn to the banner more than the comic.

The rest of the layout is a massive improvement. I like how it's a lot easier to navigate, the calendar function is a plus! And reducing the number of ads really does help massively.

So imagine my surprise when a little bird tells me that I'm being badmouthed by readers over at Addanac City. *raise eyebrow* Eh?

Honestly I fully expected it when I released that Postcard, but this is months later, so it's a little late isn't it? But my curiosity got the better of me, so I had a look. I have to admit while "badmouthed" was probably an exaggeration... I was amused to see some rather impotent personal attacks directed at me there.

Sadly, there was precious little constructive criticism in the comments, mainly the usual you-must-be-a-comic-artist to review fallacy (which I am, but that is totally irrelevant to the issue... I do not have to be one to review as explained here. If you disagree I will be more than happy to take you on in a debate on this topic.) and the you're not being fair argument (more on that later, I have my own practical reasons for rejecting it).

Most of them missed the point of my review and George's post. Maybe I need to improve my writing to get my point across better. But I do despise pandering to the lowest common denominator. Since I'm already being vilified, I might as well go with it; besides, some of the comments are too delicious not to share. 

Wow George,
As always you were super sweet to that reviewer. All of that, despite the fact that she was just rude, mean and behaved like a ,well I won’t say. I even read her follow up to your last comment and she doesn’t like the color of the page…. Please. She reviews and behaves like a mean 14 year old. Very unprofessional.
Enough about her, I do now and did before love, love your page.


The one thing I would say about reviews in general is to consider the source when you make changes. I would make changes based on positive criticism.Is that an oxymoron? Meaning, If you start changing based on those that clearly don’t appreciate you it will end up changing for the worse. IMO
Forget about them. You are and will always be a great artist

This one is by far my favourite. I guess I'm supposed to be offended and outraged or something, but in truth when I read that comment, I chuckled in delight for a good half hour.

You might wonder why I should be delighted. Well, I've been told I have a tendency to see patterns and connections that most other people don't see. It's probably responsible for my unorthodox sense of humour, and how I occasionally break into maniacal laughter for no apparent reason.

The irony is delicious here. My point in the Postcard was a preconceived notion and being presented badly influences how a comic is received. It's foolish to assume potential readers will be fair and give each comic a fair chance. Hell no, first impression, website presentation, first three pages... that's all you get at most. Fail to impress by then... there are thousands of other webcomics out there in the web. You've blown your chance. Tough. That reader is going away and not likely to come back.

In the case of Addanac, it gave me a bad impression, the website enforced that, the tagline amplified it and by the time I got to the comic I hated it already.

Now many people will whine it was "unprofessional" and "unfair".

Incidentally: To that I say: Oi! What cloud do you live on? Come down to earth and back to reality, please. Life is not fair.

Oh, I fully admit I am human and thus I write from my point of view. If you want fair try one of those other reviews that try and write from some detached, 3rd person perspective. That's not what Webcomic Finds is about. It's about exploring comics from the point of view of a new reader. I really shouldn't have to explain this... it's in the bloody blog description.

People are not paragons of virtue and will not be fair. You're bloody damn lucky if they give you a chance and check out your link. People WILL judge on first impressions, and many WILL check out a link, see a bad presentation and shuffle off elsewhere without even looking at the comic. I'm a practical reviewer. This is what I take into account.

Interestingly, in the same way, the commenter quoted above got a preconceived notion on the newspost, came here expecting a bad review, glossed over parts I did praise and focused on the criticism.

Never mind that the review was specifically requesting feedback and criticism from me. It was not unsolicited.

Never mind that I warned the creator the review might not be positive, the creator accepted that.

Never mind that I gave some points I felt were valid... they weren't sugar coated and gift-wrapped... THEY MUST BE WRONG AND SHOULD BE DISREGARDED.

The best of all... the follow up comment was specifically requesting me to check out the website design. I did so and gave critical feedback. *GASP* I did not like the colour? How dare I?!? I must be EVIL INCARNATE! *sarcastic*

Back to my point, this commenter got a preconceived notion, came expecting an evil reviewer, saw what she only wanted to see and let it influence her judgement of what she saw.

Sound familiar? Yep. Exactly the point I was trying to make. She reacted exactly how I did in the Addanac City review. (See how important first impressions are? People WILL judge your work even before they see it. It's human nature to do so, and it's futile to make apologies for it).

I have to admit, I'm as human as the next person, and I do enjoy being proved right. And I must say it tickles me to death when someone who so violently disagrees with me and who probably wished to call yours truly something that rhymes with "witch" (And probably refrained from doing so by their utmost reverence for the sacrosanct female canine ;) ), ended up doing the exact same thing and proving my hypothesis right without me having to so much as lift a finger .

It's like having your cake, getting to eat it and being presented with the recipe after that... with compliments.

The world is a wonderful place. That comment really made my day. It had me chuckling into my glass of Orvieto. Mmm... Delicious.

Too much sweetness in a wine sickens me. It's like drinking cheap supermarket Ribena. Ick. Initially sweet, but shallow and boring after the second sip, and containing far too much sugar and flavouring to be any good for you. I like my aperitifs a little more complex, slightly dry, less cloying and pandering.

The same also applies to creative feedback. Vacuous praise like "You'll always be a great artist!" is all very nice and all, but abhorrently useless except for inflating one's ego. Let's be realistic... neither George nor I are "great artists" yet. We're journeymen at best. This kind of praise is more damaging than helpful. It encourages people to slack and rest on their laurels. And then they never improve because they get too settled in their comfort zone.

I'd rather have something like "Your writing uses too many parentheses; they break the flow of reading" or "Your posing and camera angles are rather predictable and conservative, you should try more adventurous approaches." You know something that actually helps me get better at doing what I am doing. That quality of critique is hard enough to come by, why should you expect someone to be NICE on top of that? It's like expecting someone to help you AND then compliment you. For Free. WTH?

Oh and I know I've bemoaned about this before, but why the heck do people keep referring to me as a professional? This is my NOT my profession. I am very proud to be an amateur comic artist.
1 : one who engages in a pursuit, study, science, or sport as a pastime rather than as a profession
2 : one lacking in experience and competence in an art or science

Both apply to me. I do this not because it's my job, but my hobby and I love it; And I am not presumptuous enough to disclaim I do not fit in the category of the second definition. I don't do this full time so my experience is not to the level of a professional. When I see my stuff I always see where I can improve further (and I suspect it'll be that way till the day I die). Like I say I think it's a good thing.

Does that mean I do not know what I am talking about? I do know my skill level. I have miles to go yet, but I don't believe in false modesty either. At this level I DO know what I'm talking about. If you feel I'm fudging, point out the part when you think I ring false. I'll be happy to come back with proof and reasonings why I said what I said to back it up, if I didn't already.

Why else would people ask me for a review if I didn't? Why not ask the commenter above for a review if they wanted cotton candy make-you-feel-good reviews?

If George hadn't ASKED me for a review, I wouldn't have even bothered to spend my time writing about someone who was so obviously happy in what he was doing. I'm happy with leaving people who don't want my opinion alone, and I respect their right to be left alone and be happy with their comic. I've taken down reviews from people who asked me to out of respect for them, no questions asked.

But when people ask me for a review, I'm relentlessly honest. I will not lie to spare someone's feelings. And in this case George asked me. Twice. So I was honest, even when it was painful to be so. Oh sure it'd be easier to always write nice reviews and make friends, but I'd be a liar by extension. What's that you say? I can critique more nicely? News flash. I already do. I just don't bend over backwards to do it. 

You want harsh? This is harsh. And probably not as useful. It seems to be harsh for the sake of being harsh.

I can understand people not listening to me if I offer unsolicited advice. Fair enough. They never asked for it. I usually save myself the trouble and don't give it either.

But I do get a teensy-weensy bit irritated when people go out of their way to ask me for a review, people (or others) get offended and hurt when they didn't get glowing words of praise and ignore the points I make because "they weren't put in a nice enough way". These type of people really need to wake up, and grow up and stop living in their sheltered little ivory towers. People aren't always going to, and have no obligation to sugar-coat everything just because someone couldn't handle criticism without tears welling in their eyes.

Writing reviews take time. If I took the time to bloody write a review I obviously gave a damn about it. There are many more people who would like the critique in their place. I could be working on my own projects and improving MY comics with that time. People do not pay me to write this review. Heck, I don't even ask for a link back. I write them for my own development, my satisfaction, and everything else is a bonus.

Wasting my time annoys ME. I'd thank people to not waste my time by not asking for what I've already warned them in advance they might get. Let's get this straight. If I hate something I don't tear it down. I freaking ignore it. My time is precious and it's not worth my effort to take notice of. I'll only do it if A) They ask for it, and I think they can benefit from it B) I can learn something from it. Sometimes B comes before A.

I'm not here to be nice. I'm here to be honest. If I see something praiseworthy, I'll say so. If I say something that deserves to be shot, I will shoot it with a AK-47 and a full magazine of bullets. I try to be nice most of the time, but if your presentation puts me off, well... It's your own fault for putting me in that mood. That's the mood like-minded readers are going to be in anyway, and sometimes one has to be harsh to make a point get through. Can't take the heat? Kindly remove self from kitchen.

My observation so far has been: mainly webcomic creators who read other people's webcomics make any attempt to be "fair" when reviewing. This is because they know how hard it is to make a comic and keep it running (Incidentally I give credit for both which people who didn't skim over the review would have noticed). But your main audience, the majority of people who read webcomics... they don't give a damn. So either you have a readership of mostly sympathetic webcomic creators (whom you've probably left nice comments on their blogs/comics to win their affections before), or you suck it up and adapt.

In any case, if George wasn't prepared to get a negative review, he wouldn't, and shouldn't have asked for it. (If I am not mistaken, he pretty much said so to me himself, and because I have respect for him, I will take him at his word that he really meant it, and not that because it was the right thing to say.)

Ah well. I am aware people do like rushing to defend the underdog for the warm fuzzy feeling it gives. Me? I prefer helping them in a constructive manner. And so I'm prepared to help people by being their harshest critic and giving my unreserved opinion when they ask for it. 

If I have to play the evil villain and be vilified before the eyes of their readers, so be it. :D

Maybe I should do a Sherlock Holmes policy and only pick up review requests that intrigue me. Hm yes. That's not a bad idea at all... maybe I will. 

I'd still have done Addanac City though, that was a very educational review.

Thus ends a long rant in which I got to trot out two new words in my vocabulary. :D All in all it's been a good day. Signing off... Evil 14-year old Comic Reviewer. 

I even have my maniacal laugh ready!